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Ferrari Challenge: Michelle Gatting back on the podium in Monza race 2

A win and a second place – Michelle Gatting's first weekend of the 2021 Ferrari Challenge was nothing short of remarkable.

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Her win in Race 1 had set the tone – even though doubts were few after her two 2020 race weekends as a part-time entry: Michelle Gatting will be a title contender in the 2021 Ferrari Challenge Europe championship, and her consistency – a skill that is so vital in the most exclusive endurance series in the world – might very well prove to be her decisive weapon. At the season opener at Monza as a full-time Ferrari Challenge racer, Michelle Gatting claimed an outstanding victory from third on the grid, avoiding the first corner chaos and then completing two clean moves on John Wartique and Matúš Vyboh for the win. The 27-year old racer from Århus, Denmark, was never set a foot wrong and pressured her rivals into mistakes, which handed her the first win of the season and the second in the series. “I started P3, as the qualifying was a little bit disappointing, but I had a very controlled race" – she told us after the first race. "There were some crashes going on at the start and I kept it very cool the whole race. When the chance was there, I took it and went for P1 - and managed to keep it until the end of the race." In very different weather conditions, Sunday morning at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza saw the 20 Ferrari 488 Challenge Evo hitting the car for the second qualifying, which set the grid for the afternoon's Trofeo Pirelli race. 17-year old Luka Nurmi was again the leading protagonist of the session: having scored his first pole position yesterday at his very first entry in the series, Nurmi did it again under the heavy rain – albeit in a more closely fought second qualifying. The Finnish driver was three tenths clear of Michelle Gatting, as the Iron Dame set a 2:02.490 on her very final attempt. John Wartique also proved to be competitive and slotted into third. The intense qualifying was just the prelude for the final race of the weekend: unlike the previous Shell Cup for less experienced drivers, the teams of the Pirelli Trophy found better track conditions and opted to go out on slicks despite the still damp tarmac. When the lights went out, Gatting had a better start in the first metres, but was then passed by Wartique coming into the First Chicane, as she seemingly missed some top speed down the straight. A mistake into Lesmo brought Gatting into the clutches of Paulsen, but the Danish lady quickly recovered. Rookie Luka Nurmi led the first lap from Wartique and Gatting. Also making his debut in the Ferrari Challenge was Sergio Paulet, who slotted into fourth place in qualifying and leading Pro-Am. The Spaniard, though, was hit by Matúš Vyboh into the first corner and sent into a spin. The action was soon halted after a heavy shunt at Parabolica: Race 1 Pro-Am winner Barde went into the back of Rocca at high speed, likely due to a brake failure. Both drivers were luckily unhurt, but the cars had dived deep into the barriers and a red flag was deployed to allow track repairs. As cars lined up at the end of the pitlane, drivers waited for over 40 minutes before the restart behind the Safety Car.

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At the green flag, Nurmi had the perfect restart and immediately took a 2-second lead over Wartique and Gatting, while Vyboh made a great pass for fourth at Prima Variante, overtaking Paulsen. But the Safety Car soon made its way onto the track when Cozzi and Dahlmeyer collided at Parabolica as they battled for Pro-Am lead and sixth overall: the German Iron Lynx driver went deep and hit Cozzi, who managed to limp back to the pitlane but had to retire. The final restart on lap 8 saw a familiar outcome for the Finnish leader: Nurmi managed to break away from Wartique, pressured by Gatting. A fast charging Matúš Vyboh also approached the leading trio, but the Slovak was soon handed a 5-second time penalty for the starting collision. There were exciting battles throughout the midfield – especially among Brunsborg, Jackson and Pulcini – but all the eyes were back on Michelle Gatting by lap 10, when the Dane had a better exit out of the first chicane and prepared her attack at Lesmo: Michelle went alongside Wartique, the Belgian tried to respond back, but she completed the pass at Lesmo 2. Vyboh also moved up to third with an opportunistic move, but couldn't then challenge Gatting. Michelle tried to chase down the impressive rookie, but despite a really competitive pace, Gatting could not get under the three second gap. After 15 laps around the iconic Autodromo, Formula Racing's Luka Nurmi won his first race in the series, ahead of Michelle Gatting and John Wartique. Frederik Paulsen was fourth, with Matúš Vyboh being classified P5 after the penalty. Following a remarkable recovery from the first lap spin, Sergio Paulet was sixth and first among the Pro-Am for Santogal Madrid - MST Team, leading Oliver Plassmann and Hugo Delacour. Michelle Gatting now leads the championship standings, having finished first and second in the two opening races of the season. “The race was so and so – I thought I had a good start but I think we’re missing a little bit of power going straight, so I lost two positions already at the start.” – Michelle told us at the end of the race. “We then had the red flag for the big crash; we started again and quickly after there was a Safety Car, so the race was a bit of a mess. It was difficult conditions, but in the end it was a good race - we got good points for the championship. Of course I wanted to win but it’ll be the next one.” – she concluded. Gatting will now head to Barcelona for the opening round of the 2021 ELMS championship – as Iron Dames still have to announce the #83 car line up after the FIA driver rating mishap that cost Esmee Hawkey the entry in the all-female team. Rahel Frey and Michelle Gatting's teammate for the 4 Hours of Barcelona will likely be announced in the coming days.

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